NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Sprint Cup Drivers After Loudon

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst IJuly 19, 2011

NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Sprint Cup Drivers After Loudon

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    Stewart-Haas Racing couldn't have asked for a better weekend at Loudon, with Ryan Newman winning the Lenox 301 from the pole as teammate/owner Tony Stewart finished second. Both are now in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with seven races left, sitting eighth and 10th in points.

    The weekend could have been much better for Kyle Busch, though, as he lost the points lead he had just claimed due to a wreck in the third turn that cost him a considerable amount of time in the garage. Carl Edwards has thus re-inherited the points lead, while Rowdy has fallen all the way back to fifth.

    So, who else were the winners and losers at Loudon this weekend? Read on:

1. Carl Edwards

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    What's New: 13th was good enough for Edwards to reclaim the points lead despite not doing much on the track.

    What's Next: Edwards has never won at Indianapolis, but has three top-10s in six starts, a decent record.

2. Jimmie Johnson

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    What's New: Johnson led 19 laps on the way to a fifth place finish.

    What's Next: Johnson has three top-fives in nine Brickyard 400 starts, and all of them are wins; he took the checkers in 2006, 2008, and 2009. However, his average finish there is 18.3 due to an engine failure and two crashes.

3. Kurt Busch

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    What's New: Busch came home 10th, undoubtedly disappointed after having led 66 laps over the course of the day.

    What's Next: Busch has only cracked the top five at Indianapolis once, in his 2001 rookie season, and hasn't even led a lap at the track since 2003.

4. Kevin Harvick

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    What's New: Harvick didn't have much for anyone on Sunday, coming home 21st.

    What's Next: The Brickyard is one track sure to make Happy happy when it comes up on the schedule - in 10 starts, he has a win, seven top-10s, and the third best average finish of active drivers (a 9.9).

5. Kyle Busch

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    What's New: Goodbye points lead. Rowdy came home 77 laps down in 36th after winning the inaugural race at Kentucky the previous week.

    What's Next: Barring catastrophe, Busch is usually good for a top-15 finish at Indianapolis, the lone exception coming in 2009 when he finished 38th.

6. Matt Kenseth

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    What's New: Kenseth started 30th and finished 20th at Loudon.

    What's Next: In 11 Indianapolis starts, Kenseth has six top-10s, including two runner-up finishes, but has yet to reach the winner's circle. His average finish is a respectable 15.1.

7. Jeff Gordon

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    What's New: Gordon started seventh, led 19 laps, and came home 11th at New Hampshire.

    What's Next: If anybody wrote a book on winning at Indianapolis, it might as well be Gordon. One of only four four-time winners at the track (the other three are IndyCar drivers), he has 13 top-10s in 17 starts. His 9.5 average finish is second to only Tony Stewart among active Sprint Cup drivers.

8. Ryan Newman

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    What's New: With a win from the pole at Loudon and the eighth position in points, Newman is hitting his stride at the right time to get into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

    What's Next: Good thing, too, because his average finish at Indy is a dismal 21.0 (one top-10 in 10 starts).

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    What's New: Junior qualified 27th, but all in all, things could have been a lot worse. He finished a decent 15th.

    What's Next: Junior seems snakebit at the Brickyard, with only one top-10 (a sixth in 2006). He blew an engine in 2007 despite starting fourth and leading 33 laps.

10. Tony Stewart

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    What's New: Stewart the driver finished second after starting from the same place. Stewart the owner took his first 1-2 result ever in his third season at the helm of Stewart-Haas Racing.

    What's Next: Good things may be yet to come for Smoke, too. The best active driver at Indy (average finish 8.2) and perhaps the track's biggest fan (he grew up in Indiana), Stewart has only finished worse than 12th twice in 12 career stock car starts there.

11. Denny Hamlin

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    What's New: A third place at Loudon has Hamlin right on the cusp of the Chase.

    What's Next: Indy has proven a mixed bag for Hamlin, with a third place finish in 2008 offset by a 34th the following year. His average finish is 16.8.

12. Clint Bowyer

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    What's New: Bowyer led three laps, but could only manage a 17th place finish.

    What's Next: Indianapolis should help Bowyer chisel away at the Chase drivers, as he's scored two fourth place finishes there (including last year) and has never finished outside the top 20.

13. David Ragan

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    What's New: Another solid run saw Ragan climb from the 26th starting position to finish 14th.

    What's Next: Conquering the Brickyard will be yet another obstacle for Ragan to dodge in order to make the Chase. He's never finished better than 14th at the track, even as he's finished on the lead lap and placed 24th or better in all four of his Indy starts.

14. Greg Biffle

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    What's New: At his team's de facto home track (owing to a partnership with Boston Red Sox owner John Henry), Biffle could only muster an 18th place finish.

    What's Next: Da Biff has really figured out Indianapolis over the past few years, placing eighth in 2008, fourth in 2009, and third last year. In fact, his finishes have improved every year since 2006.

15. Kasey Kahne

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    What's New: Kahne dodged trouble at New Hampshire to put together a sixth place run.

    What's Next: Don't let the 15.6 average finish fool you—Kahne hasn't finished any worse than 13th when he hasn't crashed out at Indianapolis. That's five of seven starts. Sounds like the accidents are the exception to the rule.

16. A.J. Allmendinger

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    What's New: The Dinger ran a respectable 12th at Loudon, but led no laps.

    What's Next: The ex-Champ Car star debuted at open wheel racing's biggest track with a 10th in 2008, following it up with a 20th in 2009 and a 16th last year.

17. Juan Montoya

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    What's New: Tell me if you've heard this one before. Montoya qualified well (eighth) only to finish poorly (30th).

    What's Next: The 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner has dominated the Brickyard 400 in each of the past two years, only to see both races slip away—2009 to a pit road speeding penalty, last year to an accident with 15 to go. He's hungry.

18. Joey Logano

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    What's New: NHMS is Logano's home track and the circuit at which he took his maiden Sprint Cup victory. It seems to be a good luck charm for him—he took fourth place, his second top five in three weeks, and led five laps on Sunday.

    What's Next: With finishes of 12th and ninth in two Indy starts, Logano must be benefitting from all the data that his No. 20 team collected with Brickyard master Tony Stewart still at the helm. That, or it's one of his better tracks. Take your pick.

19. Paul Menard

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    What's New: Menard started ninth and finished a nondescript 24th on Sunday.

    What's Next: For a guy whose family has sponsored dozens of stellar cars at Indianapolis (albeit mostly open-wheel), Menard hasn't added much to the family till—last year's 14th place finish is his career best at the track. His average? An abysmal 26.0.

20. Mark Martin

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    What's New: lame duck lame duck spin lame duck 22nd place finish lame duck lame duck

    What's Next: In 17 career Indy starts, Martin has never taken the checkers, but 10 career top-10s and runner-up performances in 1998 and 2009 alike suggest that he's good enough to do it. Just, you know, not this year. (Lame duck.)